A bitter sense of regional divide between students from eastern and western Uttar Pradesh in Aligarh Muslim University was the prime trigger for the violent clashes on campus on 23 April, which led to the death of a former student, followed by the deployment of Rapid Action Force. However, various students, with whom The Sunday Guardian interacted with, said the two rival groups, popularly known as the “West UP group” and the “East UP group”, comprise merely 1% of the total students in AMU, as the rest steer clear of controversies. They also said that the regional divide was not likely to escalate into a large scale conflict. “Favouritism” done by teachers at the administrative level adds fuel to the existing tension, students further alleged, adding that some bullies on campus are under patronage from the “high office”.
The teachers’ association in AMU, which is vocal against the vice chancellor, Lt Gen Zameer Uddin Shah, alleged his favouritism and his tendency to flout college rules have compromised AMU’s reputation. The VC, however, vouched in an open letter that “if the charges levelled against me (him) are proved then I’ll have no moral authority to remain at the helm of this great seat of learning”.
On the night of 23 April, a resident of Mumtaz hostel was assaulted and his room was set on fire. The complainant rushed to the proctor’s office to report about the incident. But soon, two rival factions gathered there and a clash broke out. A former student named Mehtaab was shot dead late in the night near the proctor’s office. The rampaging students set afire a jeep and over half-a-dozen bikes. The mob also indulged in arson and set afire the proctor’s office. The violence was so widespread that it took the police nearly two hours to defuse the situation at different spots of the campus. An AMU official said the trouble between rival groups belonging to Azamgarh and Sambhal regions has been simmering for quite some time now.
Mapping the growth of the regional divide over the years, Ahmad (name changed), a PhD student who was born and brought up in Aligarh and has pursued his college education in AMU throughout, said, “Around 8-10 years ago, the division used to be among students from different states. Now the division is within a single state, Uttar Pradesh. Two major groups, at present, are divided into West UP and East UP. While the group from East UP stands united, the West UP group is fragmented into smaller factions from Sambhal, Kakrala, Ghazipur, etc. The West UP group is more notorious as compared to the other. However, even though regional stereotypes prevail all across, but they are not strong enough to result into large-scale violence. Students are too busy with their curricula to bother about what group they belong to. If there are 28,000 students in AMU, then 99% of them prefer to stay away from the useless drama. The rest 1,000 students are the ones who are involved in inter-group activities.”
AMU has around 28,000 students.
Students in AMU were generally defensive of the university as they stressed that the regional divide was multi-layered. “Favouritism and regionalism are deep rooted in AMU. It is more complex than you realise because it doesn’t have a starting or an end point and it exists at every level,” said Ahmad. He clarified that the problem exists in more or less all colleges, though the “good-old tradition of AMU” was on the decline. “Earlier, juniors used to respect their seniors. But now the respect has taken a beating because the seniors act like hoodlums. They are either feared or despised. Of course, not all seniors are bad. But the handful of them who want to keep their ‘image’ intact bully everyone around,” he told this correspondent.
Another PhD student in AMU, Saquib (name changed), said, “This regional divide is aggravated by the involvement of local goons who are not students of the university but are friends with many students studying here. They have no respect for the university culture; they live in hostels illegally and are largely responsible for the existence of arms and ammunition on campus. How else can students here have enough resources to buy a revolver for Rs 25,000 or a cartridge when most of them are from humble backgrounds? These boys from outside the university are the real nuisance-makers. Their entry into the hostels must be regulated.”
“In AMU, there are 18 ‘halls’, headed by 18 provosts. One hall comprises several small hostels. All hostels have wardens who are headed by a ‘provost’. The head of every hall is called a provost who is generally a professor. All provosts are directly appointed by the vice chancellor, often with a two-year tenure. On the one hand, students try to appease the provost. On the other, professors who want to become the provost (because of the luxuries the post offers), appease the VC. There are about 10 posts, such as the ‘reading room in-charge’, ‘sports in-charge’, ‘dining room in-charge’ etc., in every hostel that are to be held by students selected by the provost on the basis of their seniority, academic record and co-curricular activities. But regionalism and favouritism among students, provosts and wardens come into play affecting the selection process,” explained Saquib.
“Provost is a comfortable post. Provosts are supposed to act like mediators between the VC and the students but as of now provosts have no interest in maintaining harmony on campus. Those who assuage the VC are appointed as provosts. But then they forget about their duties. They do not report the student bullies to the VC,” Ahmad told this newspaper.
“The people of India belong to different races anthropologically. People from the Northeast are Mongoloid, North Indians are Mediterranean, South Indians are Dravidians, and the people of Andaman are Negroid. This divide reflects in universities as well, creating a sense of unhealthy competition. The solution to this is that there should not be any polarised hostels. The allocation of hostels should be done in a manner that students from different regions get to live together under the same roof. Regular workshops and seminars should be organised to promote the feeling of ‘Aligarhian’, rather than region-based identity,” said Yasser Ali Khan, ex AMU court member and PR of AMU Alumni Forum, UAE.
Shahzad Alam Barni, former president of AMU Students’ Union, said, “There is a provision in AMU Act, Section 19(3) that allows the VC to take immediate decisions on any matter, be it suspension, admission or appointment. The VC can take the decision all by himself. The decision can be challenged later on but that is a lengthy process. It takes a lot of time to undo what the VC did.”
Section 19(3) of AMU Act says, “The Vice-Chancellor may, if he is of opinion that immediate action is necessary on any matter, exercise any power conferred on any authority of the University by or under this Act and shall report to such authority the action taken by him on such matter: Provided that if the authority concerned is of opinion that such action ought not to have been taken, it may refer the matter to the Visitor whose decision thereon shall be final: Provided further that any person in the service of the University who is aggrieved by the action taken by the Vice-Chancellor under this sub-section shall have the right to appeal against such action to the Executive Council within three months from the date on which decision on such action is communicated to him and thereupon the Executive Council may confirm, modify or reverse the action taken by the Vice-Chancellor.”
“The current VC has made Section 19(3) his toy. He has used it innumerable times for the most ridiculous reasons, be it someone’s appointment or suspension. A student was allotted hall ticket despite zero attendance last year because he had ‘sources’ in the VC’s office. People who are known to be close to the VC have been appointed as ad hoc professors. Even though the VC is appointed by the Executive Council (EC) of AMU that comprises 10-12 members, the head of the EC is VC himself. This means he can appoint and suspend the members of EC at his will,” explained Barni.
“The VC has a lot of power. Everybody in the administration obviously wants to be the VC’s favourite. Therefore, rivalries exist in the administrative level as well and that gets reflected in the students’ groups, making matters worse,” said Ahmad.
Barni added: “Students are used for administrative politics by the people who are pro-VC or anti-VC. These two lobbies exist under shrouds, but their politics is not unknown. These lobbies encourage and fund the students’ groups to raise slogans for their selfish motives. This deepens the regional divide. Last time, when the pro-VC lobby wanted to oust a controller, students were on the street shouting slogans against him.”
“Without a doubt the violence that plagues the campus at present is because of the favouritism and abuse of laws by the VC. Giving admission to students with a criminal background, giving ad hoc appointments to the relatives of people close to him, giving tenders to people who are favoured by him are some acts that are being done in broad daylight. There is a set of rules that are to be followed for appointments and suspensions. But if somebody raises a voice of dissent against the VC, he will be thrown out of AMU,” said Mustafa Zaidi, honorary secretary, AMU Teachers’ Union.
“Two basic changes that are required is regulation of ad hoc appointments and the self-financing system that allows the VC to use his sole discretion in admissions and appointments. Transparency is a must at every level for admissions in universities and appointment of teachers and professors for various posts. The process of tenders that are given by the university too should be made transparent,” said Barni.